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Finding MATES in a new country

When Carla Roncati-Rodriguez moved far away from her home country, Brazil, to live with her husband and three kids in Australia, she experienced a completely different culture.

Just six months after her arrival, Carla felt something was missing from her new life. It was volunteering that helped her feel whole.

"When I arrived here in Australia, I felt I needed to start volunteering again," Carla explained, "I realised what had been missing – it was helping people."

Living in the countryside of Brazil, Carla's life experiences were very different from her new life here. The need in rural Brazil is great and helping people was something Carla grew up doing from a young age.

"Helping people voluntarily was a part of family life back in Brazil; a part of our culture," she says, "It is just something that I've naturally learnt to be a part of. My whole family used to help one another – even the two year olds. Helping anyone from young children, to the elderly or to teenagers; I know the life."

Carla currently volunteers with the Red Cross MATES program, which helps socially isolated people reconnect with their communities. She regularly meets with one of the participants, Marlene, for a coffee date or shopping spree. The two have been meeting for nearly four years now and have formed a genuine friendship.

"Meeting with Carla has helped me a lot; she is very reliable," Marlene says. "After meeting with her I feel good, she really lifts my spirits."

"It has helped me on the inside to know that I have made such a good friend."

However, the service is mutually beneficial. Carla has gained a lot from volunteering with Marlene, including sharing cultural experiences and understanding, as well as improving her English.

"After meeting with her I feel good, she really lifts my spirits." Carla and MATES participant Marlene regularly meet for a coffee date or shopping.

The plus effect

"I believe I make as much difference in Marlene's life as much as she makes in mine," Carla says.

Carla has also found that volunteering with Marlene helped her settle into Australian society.

"Volunteering cross-culturally helps people to understand cultural differences."

"It also helps with my self-esteem because, coming here, it's so different to my home country that I often doubt myself and wonder if I have done the right thing leaving home. But then I exchange cultural stories with Marlene and others involved with my volunteering programs and this helps me to connect and be strong. There's a lot of care and kindness between us after meeting together for such a long time now that I find myself genuinely connected to and respecting Marlene," says Carla.

"Volunteering is highly underestimated. We could all live in a better planet if everyone did their little bit to help one another."